'Maoists May Attack Political Leaders in Jangalmahal'

There is a "high probability" of political leaders coming under a Chhatisgarh-type attack during their panchayat poll campaign in Maoist-hit Jangalmahal in West Bengal, intelligence sources here have indicated.

The Maoists have been trying hard to regroup in the area, once the hotbed of their activity, ever since their leader Kishenji died in an encounter with joint forces in 2011 and arrest of several top leaders.

The intelligence sources said the extremists would probably try to strike big in the area, which comprises three districts of West Midnapore, Purulia and Bankura, to make their presence felt.

"The Maoists are trying to regroup in Jangalmahal for the last few months but till now they haven't tasted success. There is a high probability that Maoists might try to attack political leaders campaigning in Jangalmahal. But we are keeping a close watch," a senior official of the State Intelligence bureau (SIB) told PTI wishing to remain anonymous.

The SIB official's warning came days after the Union Home Ministry instructed the state government to beef up security in areas with Maoist presence and review of security of political leaders following the massacre of Congress leaders in Chattisgarh last month.

The state government had also appointed Virendra, Director of the Chief Minister's security, as a nodal officer in this regard.

According to sources, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, former chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, Trinamool Congress leaders Mukul Roy, Suvendu Adhikary and other leaders of TMC and CPI(M) are on the hit-list of Maoists.

The ultras had in 2008 unsuccessfully made an attempt on the life of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

Jangalmahal, which had witnessed killings, kidnappings, encounters and sabotage of trains since 2008, passed a relatively peaceful year in 2012 after the death of Kishenji and surrender of leaders like dreaded Jagori Baske. 

A senior official of the SIB had told PTI earlier that the squads of Maoist leaders Bikash at Lalgarh in West Midnapore district, Ranjit in Ayodha hills of Purulia district, and others like Madan Mahato, Akash, and Jayanto were trying to regroup.

According to SIB sources, although the Maoists in Jangalmahal are not in an organisational position to strike on their own, they might import cadres from Jharkhand and Orissa to carry out such attacks.

The views of the SIB official was endorsed by IG western range S N Gupta, who said, "There is a perception of threat to top political leaders in West Bengal visiting the area. We are coordinating with the joint forces and are on high alert," Gupta told PTI.

Former Naxalite Vervara Rao also harbours the same opinion, saying the ultras in Jangalmahal still have the will to strike in a big way to make their presence felt.

The political parties, however, left it to the state government to provide adequate security to avert any attack similar to the ambush in Chhatisgarh.

Refusing to desist from campaigning in the area, political parties underlined the importance of political activity as well as development activity to stem the Maoists from recovering ground.

"I have been on the Maoist radar for a long time. But that doesn't mean that I will leave political activity or stop visiting the area. I visit there regularly. Increased political activity by mainstream parties is the best way to alienate them," Trinamoool Congress MP Suvendu Adhikari said.

Suvendu was provided the 'Z' category security cover following Maoist threat.

Opposition parties like the Congress and CPI(M) felt that it was the duty of the state government to provide proper security to the political leaders irrespective of political colours.

"We will demand a proper security cover from the government when we visit Jangalmahal for Panchayat poll campaign. It is its duty to provide it. But even if they don't provide it, we will visit the areas for campaigning," State Congress president Pradip Bhattacharjee said.

CPI(M) leader Mohammed Salim spoke in a similar vein, saying, "It is the state's prerogative and duty to provide proper security to political leaders when they visit such troubled areas. However, laxity on the part of the state won't stop us from campaigning.

Emerging story. Watch this space for updates as more details come in
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